Last Saturday the sun was shining on the 5100 block of Cape May Avenue in Ocean Beach, and Red House at 5113 was in full flower. At the side yard gate, casually dressed visitors (mostly young) were shelling out a buck each to benefit the OB CRABs (an antinuclear group which would Cancel Radioactive Bullshit). Bread and Roses, San Diego’s veteran musical protesters, were performing. “Solar,” one of the dogs that lives at the house, was sniffing at the broccoli quiches, and folks were signing petitions imploring the governments of Russia and Norway to save the whales. Yet, not a few others were wondering if they weren’t witnessing the end of an era.
Members of the colIective that now occupies Red House say that era began in early 1973, when several of Ocean Beach's leftist activists moved into the blood-red building. With them, they brought a constellation of interests which soon transformed the four-bedroom house into a community Center. Red House hosted some of the first meetings of the Ocean Beach Community Planning Group, which later Spawned the Ocean Beach Planning Board. It served as a meeting place for Coastal Act organizers and rent control advocates and free school supporters. ("With benefits here, we raised more than $5000 to help run the Free School in the last three years, " says Jeannie, one of the house residents.) It housed classes in everything from tie-dyeing to wood-working. The issues of the short-Iived OB Scene originated at Red House, and . some of the now defunct OB Rag's creators lived there from time to time. Among Red House's tenants have been activists like Tom Kozden and George Katsiaficas and Peter Bohmer, and when they moved out, others, four to ten strong, replaced them.
The collective structure with which they lived varied over the years, according to Jeannie. "Sometimes children have been considered free renters, with the parents paying a half share of food and utilities for them. "Other times, the residents figured their rent shares in proportion to their room sizes or income. Jeannie says the rent stayed low — first $275 and now $325 a month — because the tenants collectively supplied Red House with as many repair jabs as political posters. Today the posters lend the kind of consistency to the home that family portraits give to more bourgeois domiciles; while fresh demands like "No Nukes" have claimed the living room walIs, the older statements about Vietnam and Che Guevara and Guinea-Bissau Independence persevere in Red House's remoter regions.
With such a history, then, the Red House residents were ready when they got word a few months ago that a new owner, Philip Jordan, planned to tear down the house and build a fourplex on the property. They organized a petition drive and collected more than 500 signatures, they convinced the planning board to vote against any condemnation, and the coastal commission subsequently refused to permit it. citing the need to preserve low-income housing near the beaches. But when Jordan's attorney. Wolfgang Hahn, returned with a second plan to build only a duplex on the twenty-five-by hundred-and- forty-foot piece of land which adjoins the house, comparable opposition failed to materialize. and the coast commission approved that project last Friday.
Dismayed over the imminent loss of the "recreation space," house residents were planning to meet Monday night to decide whether an appeal to the state coast commission stood any chance of success (unlikely, since the local commission didn't even consider the matter questionable enough to warrant a full hearing). The residents also are worrying now that the duplex construction may yet threaten the existing building, since part of the old structure spills onto the lot approved for the duplex. In any event, they're questioning how the activism"associated with the house can survive on the severely reduced space. "It's going to end it," predicted one resident dourly.